Studies have shown that learning in the arts contributes to strong academic performance, higher rates of literacy and improved problem solving skills. The benefits stem, however, from a student’s consistent engagement with the arts. They are the results of a comprehensive strategy to measure outcomes in many grade levels and over a considerable length of time.
Has there ever been a long range arts education study in the Lehigh Valley?
Attempts have been made but never completed. There have been excellent arts residencies and programs created but they often occurred in isolation—until now.
The Zoellner Arts Center, Bethlehem Area School District and the City of Bethlehem have embarked on a new district- and community-wide initiative, Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child (AGC), creating a long-range arts education plan for the 14,000 students in grades K-8.
AGC is a program of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that chose Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as the 24th site, and the first in Pennsylvania. This undertaking offers the promise for a future Lehigh Valley case study on the impact of arts in education.
Is the Valley up for the task?
A lot of groundwork has been laid. For two decades, arts-in-education practices have been driven by cultural organizations. Severe budget constraints led schools to cut arts programming, and cultural nonprofits were encouraged to take up the slack by replacing what was lost. Many Lehigh Valley cultural nonprofits have established relationships with local foundations and corporations to fund a variety of individual arts programs. On a statewide level, the Commonwealth provides grant funding through the Earned Income Tax Credit Program and the PA Council on the Arts Arts-in-Education Partnership.
What has been missing locally, however, is any coordination of measurement within a district or regional level. Any Given Child, Bethlehem provides an opportunity to track what we learn collectively.
The program has brought together 50 community leaders from over 25 organizations in the region to help shape the vision and the plan. According to Lehigh University’s Andrew Cassano, AGC’s Coordinator & Managing Partner, “the Program is designing a strategic plan to provide equitable access to arts resources in the classroom and outside of the classroom.” There is talk of a possible future expansion into the school districts in Allentown and Easton.
How can you get involved?
On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 9:00am, Any Given Child, Bethlehem will announce the plan and vision for arts in the schools at Nitschmann Middle School. If you count yourself as an advocate for arts-in-education, you should call your friends, plan to show up and be a voice for the arts.
Randall Forte is the Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council and serves on AGC’s governance committee.